Over the last three years in grad school, I’ve been aware of the necessity for and committed to radical self-care. I couldn’t have gotten through grad school without that commitment.
Now that I’m graduated, the importance of self-care has not diminished, but the urgency is no longer as pressing. I have plenty of time to make sure I’m eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, having fun, hanging out with friends, stimulating my mind, caring for my emotions, etc. etc. etc.
I don’t have to choose what to sacrifice and what to give attention to anymore.
Ironically, now is when I’m realizing that I’m easily lulled into not caring for myself in the way that I need to.
Some things that I’ve sorely missed have been more readily done. I’ve been putting a lot more emphasis on getting outside and exercising a solid 30-60 minutes most days of the week—which is great! I’ve missed running and haven’t felt great in my body for a while. I really enjoy being able to take an hour to move my body without the pressure of deadlines looming.
Other aspects of my wellness are harder though. I have to remind myself to make plans with friends—to not let that piece of me that is introverted and passive about social activities to drown out the part of me that needs to see people and be assertive.
I also have to remind myself not to become too obsessed with one project or activity. My time limitations are no longer set by syllabi; I have to determine, on my own, how much time is appropriate to spend on something like a political discussion or novel. And I’ve discovered that while I might feel incredibly energized and engaged for a LONG time on one thing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for me to remain buried in that one thing for so long.
It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that self-care was easier when I was in grad school…but in some ways I think it was. I knew how important it was to carve out time for my various needs because I could feel the energy depletions happening on me at every moment.
The five, ten, or thirty minutes that I would scavenge to practice my spirituality or write in my journal were precious. I could feel them keeping me going.
Now, I don’t feel my energy depleting as quickly. It’s easy to say, “Oh I can do that tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I don’t need to bother with that today.”
But I do.
I need to bother with making sure I stay balanced.
In the process of realizing that I need to renew my commitment to radical self-care, I’ve been having conversations with people about the definition of “radical.”
Colloquially, it has come to represent a word that means zealous—almost to extremism.
My understanding of and commitment to radical self-care certainly sometimes felt that way—when it seemed like I was making extreme choices to prioritize my well-being over the never-ending obligations and demands around me.
However, as I’ve been talking with people about how radical also means “to the root,” it’s been shifting what radical self-care means to me.
What does it mean to be committed to the root of self-care—to the necessity for balance of the multi-faceted aspects of wellness, to the rejection of habits or cultural norms that delegitimize my well-being or erase certain aspects of my self which are important to my well-being?
I know that radical self-care has always partially been about more than my individual choices. There is a huge component related to work practices in the U.S., gender role expectations, familial obligations, etc. The environment and outside factors cannot be ignored.
Yet how often do we actually talk about those factors as more than obstacles? I don’t know about others, but I have never been to a meeting with an organization to determine how the organization can improve the atmosphere of wellness for those working for it. If an organization is going to get involved in a conversation about self-care, it’s generally going to be because an individual hit burnout territory—the meeting will be about what the individual needs to do differently or what they’re not doing enough of.
I’ve been itching to be able to delve into an exploration of the external factors involved in wellness and how radical self-care relates to those, and now I have time!
Which means that along with reminding myself to take breaks and diversify what gets my attention, I can also finally begin looking more seriously at the systemic issues.
I am zealous about self-care, as a form of self-love and preservation but also as a form of resistance; that means getting to the roots, not just of my own well-being but of the self-within-society because, as Donne once wrote, “no man is an island.”